I was reading an article recently about the difference between “patient engagement” and “patient experience.” We hear those terms tossed about pretty regularly, and it is kind of confusing as to what they really mean. While these two are related, according to the article, the context of “patient engagement” is the patient’s own health while the context of “patient experience” is all-encompassing – things like access, food, parking, communication, etc. One of the key goals of the latter being to exceed patients’ expectations in order to differentiate the brand. It was interesting that absent from the descriptors of patient experience was patient payments.
Valet parking is nice. Online appointment booking is great. And don’t even get me started on the importance of great food in the cafeteria. But if you’re looking to exceed my expectations and truly differentiate your brand, focusing your attention on billing and patient payments is the best place to start.
Healing Physical Pain; Preventing Financial Pain
The goal of healthcare providers is to make us feel better – heal our ailments, ease our pain and prevent it from reoccurring, right? Well, why can’t that same concept work for the business side of healthcare as well, specifically patient payments? I believe it can – as long as they start to view the process as preventing patient financial pain. So, what does that mean? Just a few simple things:
1. Let Me Know What to Expect
Doctors typically do a pretty good job at preparing their patients for treatment. Things like what to expect…which medicine to take…when to take it…etc. They do this so there are no surprises during treatment and to give the patient a full understanding of what lay ahead medically.
Providers can take that same course when helping patients understand their portion of the bill. This is extremely important given the increase in self-pay patients. Communicating what to expect…who will be billing them…when billing will happen…when it will be due…gives the patient a full understanding of what lay ahead for them financially. If I know what to expect, I can make knowledgeable decisions about my care.
Accuracy is key for this to work. That means providers will need to do a little homework on the front side to understand what my insurance will pay and how things need to be coded and submitted for them to pay.
2. Do Not Surprise Me
Surprises are awesome when it comes to birthdays, homecomings or a $20 bill you find in a jacket pocket – definitely not with healthcare bills. I was talking to someone yesterday who had been in the hospital for about a week and is now starting to receive a pile of statements from her insurance company and several confusing bills from practitioners she had never even heard of (think radiologist, laboratories, etc.) Talk about feeling sick again!
My friend has the ability to pay, but her course of action is to make a bunch of phone calls to try to decode her bills before she can even think about making payments. She’s just buckling in for a long, frustrating ride. Hmm. I wonder if situations like these contribute to the growing uncollected medical debt from patients.
3. Make It Easy for Me to Pay
A study earlier this year indicated that two-thirds of bankruptcies are tied to medical issues. Time off from work and medical bills led the way. There’s nothing a provider can do about lost work time, but they definitely can make it easier for patients to pay.
- Offer patient payment plans that fit my financial needs. This is where data analysis and predictive analytics can help. They go well beyond a simple credit score, which really doesn’t tell you much or anything about me.
- Have some flexibility and be willing to make modifications to my patient payment plan in case my financial situation changes.
- Accept patient payments through all channels such as mobile, online, phone – even add a “pay now” button to MyChart.
Compassionate Care Should Extend Beyond Medical Treatment
Hospitals and healthcare practices go out of their way to promote their compassionate care. Often that compassion ends with my medical treatment. My care goes from patient-centric to provider-centric in a heartbeat when it comes time for patient payments. Provider compassion needs to extend into finance, billing and even revenue cycle as well.
I’m not suggesting debt forgiveness or anything like that. The business side of healthcare has its own bills to pay. But I do believe if providers have insight into their patients’ ability and propensity to pay, and communicate with them throughout the process, they can reduce patient collection costs, increase patient payments, and deliver a better patient experience. Providers that don’t embrace this approach will be left sitting on a mountain of uncollected patient debt.